Life’s Simple Equation: Number Lines, Arithmetic, and Five Life Lessons

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock, By bradcalkins

When you were in math class during elementary/primary school, you probably weren’t thinking about how the lessons on addition and subtraction could be applied to life. But yes, life lessons can be found in basic arithmetic. Because life is like a number line accompanied by one long equation of plus and minus signs.

So, welcome to Life Lessons in Math 101.

Before we begin, there are mathematical principles and connections we want to establish.

  1. First, there exists a number line that every number fits into. To the left of zero on the number line are negative numbers, and to the right are positive numbers. We will be imagining life as a number line.
  2. Second, in front of every number greater than zero is an invisible plus sign indicating that it’s positive. Meanwhile, in front of every number below zero is a minus sign indicating that it’s negative. Positive numbers will symbolize the positives in life and negative numbers will symbolize the negatives.

From this framework, we can find the following life lessons.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock, By BaMic illustrations

Life Lessons in Basic Math

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock, By lightpoet
  1. Know that we don’t all start at zero–Those with more fortunate backgrounds and those with less fortunate backgrounds will have different starting points on life’s imaginary number line. Keep this in mind when you’re tempted to compare yourself to others. Consider the fact that you may have actually come a much longer way than you think or than it appears depending on which point you started.
  2. Always be aware of what you add to your equation–In order to have a positive total after the equal sign, the positive numbers added together must be greater than the negative numbers. Similarly, in order to have a more positive “total” well-being in life, you must add more positive than negative things to your life equation.
  3. Add the positives, no matter how small–Naturally, you want to add more positive inputs to your life than negative ones. But the bigger lesson here is that a positive number means anything greater than zero. Therefore, adding even a fraction of the number one results in a forward motion on the number line. A fraction of one is, at least, better than zero and certainly better than a negative of any number. Similarly, any positive thing you can add to your life, however small, is progress on life’s number line.
  4. Keep (don’t subtract) the positives–When things are going well, it’s easy to not notice and take for granted all the factors at play that are causing things to go well. It’s only when they’re gone that you may realize how much they were “adding” to your life all along. So find and acknowledge the things that are already good and do your best to hold on to them. Because when you subtract a positive number in any math equation, you ultimately lose something on the other side of the equal sign.
  5. Don’t keep (do subtract) the negatives–In math, subtracting a negative number from a negative number [-4 –(-5)] or a negative number from a positive number [2 – (-4)] turns the adjacent negative and minus signs into a plus sign. So -4 –(-5) becomes -4 + 5 and 2 – (-4) becomes 2+4. This means that any time you take away any negative inputs in your life, it’s a good thing. You make progress on life’s number line, and the principles of math support this.


Consider what your life equation looks like today. You might even try to map it out. What are your positive and negative inputs? How’s your “total” well-being? What things should you add, keep, and subtract? Compared to your past, has your point on your life’s number line moved backward, forward, or neither?

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